Heuksan-do is 92km away from Mokpo and is the south-westernmost island in Korea’s administrative district. The recent push to build an airport on Heuksan Island has become a hot topic, so what will be the effectiveness of the construction of Heuksan Airport?
The Heuksan Airport project began in 2009 during the Lee Myung-bak government, when Sinan-gun promoted a feasibility study service, saying it would build an airfield, dedicated to small aircraft, on Heuksan Island. However, the area around the airport’s planned site was found to be a resting spot for migratory birds which led to fierce opposition from environmental groups. As such, Heuksan Island was considered to have a high preservation value, so it was incorporated into Dadohae Haesang Korea National Park. This made it difficult to build the airport, but on Jan. 31, the Ministry of Environment’s Korea National Park Committee decided to exclude some parts of Heuksan Island from the national park. As a result, the site that was going to house Heuksan Airport was excluded, allowing the project to take a step closer to pushing ahead.
However, since most local airports are in the red recently, some point out the slim likelihood that it can operate properly even if the airport is completed. The operation of existing airports is not easy, and the entry of a new airport could add to the operational difficulties. The government has been pushing for Heuksan Airport in order to improve the mobility of residents and tourists in urban areas, as well as for the improvement of the local economy and emergency medical services. There were many objections, but while the construction of Heuksan Airport is underway, what are the opinions of the residents of Heuksan Island? CBT reporters met with Jeong Il-yoon, chairman of the Heuksando Airport Promotion Committee, to find out about the opinions of residents.
1. It has been confirmed that Heuksan Airport is to be promoted after 15 years of discussion on its construction. It must have been long-awaited news, than what was the response of the residents and the committee?
Residents said, “We won’t be able to push for it again this time. We’ve been discussing the push ahead for 15 years. I thought it wouldn’t matter to people.” However, as the Heuksan Airport construction project was confirmed, middle-aged people cried and cried because they were emotional while being interviewed by the newspaper. The whole town rose like a party. From Mokpo, the area around Sinan-gun was plastered with banners confirming the construction project of Heuksan Airport. It was such a happy occasion that the village foremen were excited to hang banners for each village and town.
2. What was the biggest reason for the construction of Heuksan Airport on Heuksan Island?
First, Heuksan Island has two territorial bases in Korea, Hong Island, and Gageo Island. It is always considered to be the border between China and Japan because it is the westernmost and southernmost end of the country and is the starting point of Korea’s territorial waters. The economic benefits for Chinese fishing boats doing illegal fishing in Korean waters are as much as the nation’s total agricultural income. Therefore, there must be an airport on Gageodo Island, the starting point of the territorial sea, to prepare for emergencies. Heuksan Island is a very important area in terms of territorial preservation.
Also, since this is an island, it is difficult to get medical services. There are some helicopters now, however, they can only operate between sunrise and sunset. Emergencies frequently occur after sunset, especially among the elderly, during winter or when the temperature difference is severe. Then, they have to take a Coast Guard boat and move from Jindo to a hospital in Gwangju or Mokpo, and many patients are lost during the critical time. In some cases, pregnant women give birth on passenger ships, or in a helicopter if they went into labor during the previous night.
3. What are the expectations of Heuksan Airport?
The aforementioned medical service part is likely to improve a lot. Also, there will be a lot of tourists coming and going. However, just because there is an airfield doesn’t necessarily mean that the airfield will be prosperous. Who would come if a tourism infrastructure does not exist even if there was an airfield? Therefore, a lot of research needs to be conducted in order to develop tourism infrastructure in Jeollanam-do, Sinan-gun, and the western region.
Also, there was an airfield in Mokpo, but it disappeared because there is no connection between the large airfields in Muan, Gimhae, and Gimpo and the small airfields in the provinces. There is no link at the moment. As mentioned in the meeting between related ministries, a link between large and small airports is needed, such as the ATR 42 model (mainly used for branch line operation at local small and medium airports), which is scheduled to be used on Heuksan Island. Only then can large airports and small airports coexist. This is why large airports in the provinces are also ruined because there is no connection between large and small airports. It’s a pity. Another important factor to consider is that Chinese international students in Gwangju and Jeollanam-do pay chartered flights every vacation to fly to and from China. Muan Airport and Heuksan Airport may both serve to satisfy the tourism demands of the many Chinese travelers who wish to vacation in Korea.
As mentioned before there is strong support both for pushing ahead with the construction of Heuksan Airport, as well as aborting it altogether. Both those in favor of the airport, and those against it make compelling cases for and against its construction. As Heuksan Airport plans to start construction in the second half of this year, it will be interesting to see how negotiations between the two sides play out over the next few months.
By Kim Si-eun | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Park Su-min | email@example.com